Friday, June 17, 2016

Changing Directions

Ever been in the midst of one writing project when another grabbed you by the arm, said, "Me! Me!" and wouldn't let go?

In a post last year, I described my new strategy for staying organized and being more productive. I had been reading books and articles and based on the research findings and expert advice on the subject, I intended to:

a. Stop multitasking and focus on one project (at least for that day)
b. Do "the next logical thing" (the most important task with the most urgent deadline)

Sounded good. Been trying to do it. Hasn't worked. Here's why:

a. I always have more than one writing project going on at the same time -- a nonfiction project and a mystery. I can alternate back and forth between the two, but I can't simple press "pause" and come back to one or the other in a few months or even a week or two. I need to keep both moving along. I like dividing my day between the two and seeing progress on both. The shift in focus is energizing.
b. Doing the next logical thing according to importance and urgency seemed to have promise. Must finish my crime and clothing book this summer. Working on that. Really want to finish my standalone 1939 historical thriller. Agent wants me to finish. I want to get it done. Could be important to my career. Working on that, too.

And then something happened. My last Lizzie Stuart book came out in 2011. I started to write my Hannah McCabe police procedural books set in Albany in the near-future. But I wrote a Lizzie short story that was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in July 2014 (podcast of "In Her Fashion") . I knew I would come back to Lizzie sooner or later.

But I didn't have a book idea in mind. I knew that in the next book, she would go with John Quinn, her fiance to meet his family. I knew that would happen Thanksgiving week 2004, and they would go to Santa Fe. That's it. I assumed the mystery would happen there. . .until a few months ago when the first scene in the book came to me. That was when I knew Lizzie would be distracted during her visit with her future in-laws by something that had happened the night before she and Quinn left Gallagher, Virginia.

Okay, I made a note or two and tried to go back to what I was doing. A scene -- even a vivid scene -- was no reason to let this book step out of the queue. I wanted to work on my 1939 thriller.

But that scene kept nagging at me, and I found myself telling a friend about it over dinner. As it happens this friend is the person with whom I always talk out sticky plot points. She knows my characters, and she's a lawyer with a logical mind. (Notice that I have great respect for logic because I sometimes run to intuition and need to refocus). So, I told her about this scene and that I wasn't sure what it was about. She threw out an idea or two. I listened. And went home and made a few notes. Still a back-burner project.

Until earlier this week when I was reading a criminal justice report that had nothing to do with the Lizzie book and suddenly another character walked on stage. A character with a problem that would pull Lizzie into the investigation. And bring back one of my favorite characters. A subplot that should get me through that sagging middle and give Lizzie even more motivation than she originally had for getting involved.

So now, I'm working on the clothing and crime book. That is moving along. But my 1939 thriller has been pushed aside by Lizzie. The characters in the 1939 book are not protesting. They seem to be fine with my promise that I will continue to make notes and tinker with my complex plot outline. I suspect that's because there is something about the Lizzie book that is going to be relevant to the 1939 thriller. As I may have mentioned, all of my research and writing seems to occupy the same universe. Lizzie is a crime historian, maybe while I'm doing research for whatever she's working on in the past. . .

So I'm kicking logic to the curb. I'm going to go in the direction that I'm being pulled and trust that it's my subconscious at work and not my way of avoiding the challenge of my standalone. I'm trusting that my 1939 book needs something that I'll find while writing a book set in in 2004. We'll see what happens. I just hope I'm not halfway through the Lizzie book when suddenly I need to head back to 1939 and start writing.

Have you ever changed directions? Switched your focus from one book to another?


Roland Clarke said...

I keep getting pulled down other novel avenues. After my debut novel, I got the urge to write something that had just been an idea (Fates Maelstrom). After the first draft of that I got diverted and finished other first draft ideas, including the sequel to my debut.

But I had some short story ideas that pre-dated my debut, and those became an anthology linked by a post-apocalypse theme and plotline. After revising that a few times, and getting it near to a finished state, a crit partner threw up some major questions, so I skidded into a ditch.

So I'm back onto that Fates Maelstrom novel, since the area I live in, North Wales, was calling out to be the setting with a new character that has evolved into a complex heroine/detective. It's a crime novel, and I even have some local police helping with my research.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to divide my day between projects like you, and struggle with just one creation at a time. (Just don't mention the Alternative History brewing in my head).

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


You really do have a lot going on! I'm glad I only have two competing projects. Some other plot outlines, yes, but nothing else that is pulling on my sleeve.

Good luck with getting the project you feel the deepest connection with done and out the door.

Linda Thorne said...

This has happened to me many times. Before my first book was published and I was still polishing it, my second book would call for me to add or change something. Sometimes it would be a short story. Now,I'm trying desperately to get my second book finished, and I'll stop in the midst of working on it to write a post for a blogspot. In hindsight, these disruptions have all turned out well for whichever project is calling for my attention. I think listening to these voices is hearing the creative side of ourselves telling us what needs done.